How can you support your employees remotely? When remote working became the new normal, it really changed the game, and it left members of company leadership to navigate a new frontier of questions just like that one. Remote working has offered some awesome perks, such as increased flexibility, and helped many employees to do their best work on their own time, in the comfort of their own homes. But it’s also made it tricky to establish a new standard of best practices for necessities like employee monitoring.
In a traditional office, it would be easy to measure employee progress by popping by someone’s desk for a chat. But in the age of remote working, how can we do the same thing? Employee monitoring can be an asset when supporting remote workers, but it’s important to consider the pros and cons of employee monitoring before putting a policy in place.
So, in this article, we’ll dive deep into a host of employee monitoring pros and cons. We’ll explore what employee monitoring is, why it’s helpful, why this practice is regulated by ethical concerns, and how you can successfully utilize employee monitoring software in a positive and ethical way.
What Is Employee Monitoring?
For starters, let’s take a look at what employee monitoring is. Although this term might make you envision a Big Brother scenario, complete with hidden cameras and spyware that tracks your every keystroke, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that at all. Despite the creepy suspicions that may spring to mind, employee monitoring is not inherently sneaky or invasive at all.
Put simply, employee monitoring is a way for organizations to keep an eye on employee activity for the purpose of measuring employee productivity, avoiding legal liability, and optimizing employee productivity.
Types of Employee Monitoring
So, how does that work in practice? There are several different types of employee monitoring systems available to your organization, and you can implement a combination of a few to find the best fit for your employees. Here are a few examples of common employee monitoring tools:
Time-tracking apps and devices
Time tracking apps are pretty straightforward: they’re a way for organizations to confirm that employees are doing what they’re supposed to do during work hours. In practical application, this can take a variety of different forms depending on what works best for you and your employees.
Some apps run in the background while you’re working, ensuring that the hours you log for pay correspond with the time you’ve spent working. Other apps take screenshots in real-time while you work, capturing random photos of what you’re working on during business hours.
None of these solutions are overly invasive and they can be a great, low-maintenance way to measure employee performance if your employees are working in the field or from home.
Location monitoring and GPS tracking
This one is a little more specific to employees who are required to travel for work and/or those who have company cars. While it may not be necessary to track the whereabouts of your average employee, GPS trackers for company vehicles can help you confirm that your company cars are being used for their intended purposes and that the gas receipts submitted correspond with the correct mileage.
Web, social, and email monitoring
Website tracking, application monitoring, and social media tracking can work for remote and in-office employees alike. While it may not be relevant to every company or every employee’s role, this form of employee monitoring can be useful in a couple of ways.
For starters, these tools can help you assess the sites and apps your employees are spending time on in relation to their roles. If employees are required to utilize certain types of software as a part of their daily roles, these tools can help you measure the performance and effectiveness of that software, in addition to confirming that your employees are using them appropriately and staying on target.
This is also a great way to keep an eye out for time-wasting sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., and ensure that your employees aren’t getting distracted by social media while they’re on the clock. Similarly, conducting occasional scans of employee social media can be helpful in some cases because it allows you to evaluate the image your employees are presenting of themselves and their employer.
While this may be more applicable to some roles and industries than others, the content your employees post on social media can occasionally pose a threat to your company’s security and reputation. When this is the case, it’s important to address that issue sooner rather than later, which is why employee social media monitoring can sometimes be essential.
And, lastly, employee email tracking is a great way to identify and eliminate security threats that may arrive in the form of viruses, malicious links, downloads, or the unauthorized distribution of information via company email accounts. All of these forms of employee monitoring can be conducted in-office and remotely and can be vital for keeping your employees and your organization safe.
Screen, keypad, and mouse monitoring
Similar to time tracking apps, screen monitoring is another way to ensure that your employees’ time on the clock is being used wisely. Keypad and mouse monitoring software can help you identify any potential issues of unauthorized access and confirm that your company data is only being accessed by those with the appropriate clearance.
And since keypad and mouse monitoring software will confirm whether actual employee activity matches up with their reported activity, it’s also a good way to confirm that your employees are actually logging data or writing reports and not chatting on Facebook Messenger.
Phone call monitoring
You know that little warning you get on every business call? The one that says “This call is being recorded for training and quality assurance purposes?” When we need to call customer service or pay a bill over the phone, we’ve all mostly tuned out that pre-recorded addendum to our business conversations. But when it comes to the safety and quality of your own organization, that little detail can prove very important.
Calls being recorded for training and quality assurance is an example of phone call monitoring and it’s a great way to protect your business, your employees, and your customers alike. It would be wonderful if every business phone call went smoothly but anyone who’s ever worked in customer service will tell you that difficult customers are everywhere!
So, if a customer harasses your employee over the phone or if an employee is failing to follow protocol, phone monitoring gives you a handy record of exactly what went wrong. These records can be useful if you need to challenge an accusation or provide a training example that illustrates how your team can improve.
If your employees work remotely in any capacity that involves making company phone calls, phone monitoring software can help you ensure that all calls are in accordance with your company policy and that everyone is safe and supported.
The term “video surveillance” might sound a bit intense but it isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds; after all, what business doesn’t have video cameras in use? While this type of employee monitoring may be less relevant for remote workers, installing video surveillance in your business is a great way to keep everybody safe.
Video footage allows you to review exchanges between employees and customers, keep track of employee activity, and ensure that your organization is protected in the event of theft, customer complaints, and other standard concerns that can affect a business.
Obviously, everyone hopes that their company can avoid dealing with difficulties like employee theft or false allegations from customers and disgruntled staff alike, but it’s important to hope for the best and plan for the worst-case scenario. Eyewitness accounts can be messy and unreliable but video surveillance guarantees that you have objective footage which will help you get to the bottom of any issue.
Employee Monitoring Pros and Cons
So, now that we’ve explored the nuances of employee monitoring, let’s take a look at some employee monitoring pros and cons. We know what types of tools are available and how they can be used in practical applications, but what are the pros and cons of employee monitoring in the workplace? In this section, we’re going to find out by doing a deep dive into the employee monitoring pros and cons.
Pros of employee monitoring
Everybody knows how easy it can be to get distracted at work. A quick glance at Facebook or TikTok can easily turn into hours of illicit doom-scrolling that keep you totally distracted from your job.
And that’s one reason why employee monitoring software can help your company increase productivity. When people know they are being monitored, they are more likely to work efficiently and minimize the errors that occur due to distraction.
You can’t talk about employee monitoring pros and cons without emphasizing the safety benefits for employees, customers, and company leadership alike. Employee monitoring software can protect you and your staff from malicious downloads and viruses, false allegations, labor disputes, payroll errors, and so much more.
Most disagreements arise due to breakdowns in communication and a lack of accurate information is often the root cause. But employee monitoring software — whether it comes in the form of video surveillance, phone call monitoring, or screen recording — can provide you with objective information that you can use to solve problems.
Whether you need to defend an employee against an unfair allegation, clear up a payroll dispute, or talk to an employee about their conduct on social media, employee monitoring software can accurately document everyone’s side of the story and make problem-solving easier.
Reduce labor disputes
Labor disputes are a fairly standard issue that can arise from time to time and they can quickly turn contentious. No one likes to feel that they’re being overworked and undervalued, so it’s no surprise that employees will be unhappy if their compensation does not appear to match the labor they’ve put in.
These issues can commonly arise due to human error; mistakes in payroll and time tracking errors can result in inaccurate compensation that causes employees to be underpaid or overpaid.
When labor disputes like these arise, it’s helpful to have a source of empirical proof you can turn to. If an employee’s hours have been recorded via video surveillance, screen recordings, or time tracking apps, you both have a record that can quickly and easily settle discrepancies.
The pros of employee monitoring are pretty straightforward. Employee monitoring software offers benefits like increased focus, productivity, and safety, so you might be wondering how there could possibly be a downside to employee monitoring.
Fortunately, the cons of employee monitoring lie primarily in the way you handle it. In this section, we’ll dig deeper into the downsides of employee monitoring and how you can minimize them.
Cons of employee monitoring
Feelings of suspicion
If you’ve ever watched the email surveillance episode of The Office, it’s no surprise that most people aren’t big fans of having their activity monitored. Knowing that your employer is reading your emails and watching your every keystroke can make some people feel suspicious and distrustful of management. Some employees may feel that responsible working professionals should be trusted to police themselves and they may resent any form of surveillance.
Employee privacy concerns
The privacy concerns which surround employee monitoring fall into a similar category as the feelings of suspicion which often characterize employee perception of monitoring software. Many employees may fear that monitoring software will be used to access personal data or that monitoring software could be weaponized by hackers. Similarly, if employees do use their work computers, email accounts, or Wi-Fi networks to access the occasional personal message, they may worry about their employers spying on their personal correspondences with friends and family.
The stigma around employee monitoring
Lastly, the stigma which surrounds employee monitoring is another common concern. Because many people hear “employee monitoring” and correlate that with creepy, invasive surveillance, employee monitoring carries a stigma that can have a negative impact on performance and morale. No one likes to feel that they’re being spied on or judged, so this can cause some employees to feel apprehensive at work.
These might seem like some hefty concerns to tackle but the silver lining lies in the way you implement employee monitoring software. Be open and up-front with your team about the implementation of employee monitoring software. Your employees may not be initially thrilled about this policy but they’re likely to be more receptive if they feel included and respected when you talk them through the policy.
For example, it may help if you outline the benefits that will be mutually helpful for employees and company leadership. It’s also a good idea to stress that, at the core, employee monitoring is not about spying on employees nor is it designed to create a culture of suspicion and mistrust. Instead, employee monitoring is a helpful safety measure that aims to keep your team safe, ensure accuracy, and promote accountability.
Employee Monitoring Laws and Ethics
So, now that we’ve discussed employee monitoring pros and cons and what you can do to help your employees get on board with employee monitoring, let’s dig a little deeper and evaluate the laws and ethics which govern the usage of employee monitoring software.
For starters, you need to know that employee monitoring is governed by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (commonly abbreviated as the ECPA). This law grants companies the right to monitor their employees’ verbal and written activities on work devices as long as the company can present a legitimate reason for doing so.
However, some states have their own additional policies in regard to employee monitoring, so it’s important to be aware of federal laws and state-by-state laws which may affect you if you and your remote employees work in different states.
Monitoring your employees’ communication and activity on work devices is perfectly legal, provided that you have a legitimate and reasonable justification for doing so and provided that you aren’t doing so via unnecessarily invasive methods. But, within those parameters, there are a few other things you can’t do, including:
- Prohibit employees from talking about their wages
- Prevent employees from discussing their working conditions
- Monitor employee communication with the intent of conducting surveillance on employee unions
Do employee monitoring laws vary depending on the industry you work in?
Employee monitoring laws may vary a great deal from one industry to another, particularly if your industry specializes in sensitive information such as classified data and healthcare records. While this guide cannot speak to the unique intricacies which may govern each of these industries, we can advise that it is crucial to ensure your employee monitoring policies are in line with your industry’s regulations.
Do employee monitoring laws differ from state to state?
Employee monitoring laws absolutely differ from state to state and it’s important to make sure you’re on the right side of the laws in your state and all the states where your remote employees may be based.
For example, did you know that although all states allow some level of employee social media monitoring, California and Illinois have specific laws which prohibit companies from asking employees for their social media login info?
Although most states’ employee monitoring laws are pretty simple and straightforward, some states have some specific provisions you need to be aware of. Let’s take a closer look at the four states whose laws are a little more intense.
New York’s Civil Rights Law states that companies must give written notice of possible recordings of phone, email, or internet communications. However, New York’s employee monitoring laws have not yet caught up to the recent popularity of working from home and it’s a bit unclear whether remote employees are covered by the same employee monitoring protections that apply to those who work in the office.
Connecticut requires companies to notify employees of employee monitoring through conspicuous, visible signage in places where the employees can reasonably be expected to notice the policy on a regular basis. Employers are also required to make sure new employees in particular are aware.
The California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) essentially considers in-office employees, freelancers, and remote workers to be in the same category as consumers when it comes to their data protection rights.
This means that all employees have the right to ask who is collecting their data, what type of data is being collected, and for what purpose. So, although California businesses can monitor employee activity on-site, record business phone calls, and monitor employee email, your employees can ask to be made more aware of this and to receive copies of the data you collect.
In Delaware, businesses are required to inform employees of monitoring beforehand and to receive written consent that each employee is aware of and consents to the monitoring. Delaware companies are required to do this by either:
- A daily reminder notification attesting that employee monitoring is taking place
- An initial warning of employee monitoring which requires every employee to sign off on this
Ethical best practices for employee monitoring
Getting your employees on board is definitely important and it’s vital that you stay in line with the employee monitoring laws in your state and industry. But if we move beyond the letter of the law, what do the ethics of employee monitoring really look like?
- Are your motivations in the right place?
Although employee monitoring doesn’t have to be creepy and invasive, how you use employee monitoring software will ultimately determine its function and perception in your workplace.
That’s why your motivations have to be in the right place. Are you only using employee monitoring software to ensure that your business interests and your employees are accountable and safe?
If there’s any part of you that wants to use it to crash employee barbecues, it may be time for a bit of inner reflection that only true Office fans can appreciate: a dreaded chat with Toby in HR!
- Are your policies holistic and inclusive?
Although many companies are now turning their attention to monitoring remote employees, it’s vital to ensure that your employee monitoring policies are holistic and inclusive across the board. If you’re going to implement employee monitoring for remote workers, you should institute the policy for in-office workers as well.
This will be better for company culture in the long run because it will ensure that everyone is on a level playing field. If you monitor one group of employees and not others, it can make your remote employees feel overly scrutinized and create a sense of tension and imbalance among your team as a whole.
So, even though some types of employee monitoring may be more relevant to remote workers than those who work on-site, make sure your employee monitoring policies are as fair as possible across the board.
- Are you being transparent?
Your state and industry may not require you to notify your employees about monitoring practices, but being transparent with your team is still the most ethical approach. So, start by telling them exactly what’s expected of them, why your company is instituting employee monitoring, and what aspects of their work devices and/or office environment are being monitored.
By fostering a culture of openness and transparency, you can encourage your employees to feel safe and respected at work, and that’s always a great thing, regardless of what employee monitoring tools you utilize.
How to Implement Employee Monitoring Software
Now that we’ve considered so many other aspects of employee monitoring software, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how do you actually put it into practice? The first and most important step is to identify the features you really need. Every business is different; if your company runs primarily online and all your employees work from home, you’ll have different needs from a company with a physical store.
Where they may need video surveillance to monitor their stock rooms and their employees’ interactions with customers, you may need features that are more geared toward remote workers, such as time-tracking apps and screen recording software. So, take time to ask yourself these questions and really think through the answers:
- What type of employee monitoring software do you need?
If you have a combination of hybrid employees, full-time remote workers, and employees who work in-office full-time, you may be faced with a variety of different employee monitoring needs. Assessing these needs from the outset and planning accordingly can help you avoid wasting time, money, and surveillance efforts on products you don’t need.
- How much is too much?
To answer this question, ask yourself what features would help you successfully address your concerns. What features offer the solutions you need? How much surveillance is invasive and unnecessary?
Do you need video surveillance tools if your employees all work remotely? Would it suffice to simply record work Zoom meetings and confirm that your employees consent to this? Likewise, would an investment in a simple time-tracking or screen-recording app help you confirm that your remote employees are actually working?
- What platforms offer all the features you need in one convenient package?
If you’re looking for a solution that will help you monitor remote employees, field workers, and in-office staff, you may be tempted to over-invest at the outset by paying for many different software platforms, each of which claims to address a separate feature. But it may be worth it to shop around until you find one platform which can address a variety of employee monitoring needs.
Key Features To Look For in Employee Monitoring Software
The key features you want to look for in employee monitoring software will vary from one business and industry to another, so ultimately, the key features you need will be unique to you. But these questions can help you narrow down your search:
- Does this platform include the tools I need most?
- Is this platform trustworthy and secure?
- Does the company behind this platform have a proven track record of great tech support and customer service?
In practice, the tools you’ll need may vary, but any employee monitoring program worth its salt should at least include the following:
- Time tracking
- Application monitoring
- Webpage monitoring
While you may need to invest in a few extra tools such as video surveillance if you’re supervising a physical location, these tools are key for monitoring remote and in-office employees. So, make sure you evaluate the key features you need against the services an employee monitoring platform offers you.
How Workyard Can Help
There are many pros and cons associated with employee monitoring and it’s important to be aware of this before finding an employee monitoring platform that works for you and implementing it in your workplace.
Workyard recognizes that understanding and processing the data associated with employee monitoring can take up a lot of time! That’s why it takes the hassle out of employee monitoring by providing a user-friendly and accessible format that anyone can use.
With geo-fencing features that remind field employees to clock in when they’re on-site and alerts that remind employees to take a break, Workyard offers a simple solution for employees who report to an office or job site.
Workyard’s GPS time clock app also allows you and your team to see each other’s locations in real-time, make adjustments to your schedule on the go, and send updates to clients to keep your workday running smoothly.
Lastly, by requiring employees to tag hours to projects they’ve submitted — along with space to add notes, photos, and receipts to time cards — Workyard ensures increased accuracy in reporting.
All of these features can be utilized for effective and efficient remote, on-site, or mobile employee monitoring. With an easy one-click format and a proven track record of accessibility for all users, Workyard is easy to implement and easy to use as a one-stop hub for employee monitoring. Sign up for a free trial of Workyard today!